Designers pivot to mask production as CDC recommends covering the face


Stephanie Stimmler, Bay Area based Fashion Designer, makes sustainable cotton masks for healthcare and frontline workers. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stimmler)

Smit Parekh

Local designers and large manufacturers in California are working to make one product that is now recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for everyone cloth masks. 

Bayside USA, an apparel manufacturing company, decided to fulfill the national need of masks and invested in 30 new machines that have helped over 1000 hospitals from Virginia to California, with over 1 million 100% cotton reusable masks. 

“Tuesday we decided, Wednesday we pivoted our machines, bought thirty new machines that we needed to make masks, special machines… ordered another ninety,” said Nadir Zulfiqar, National Sales Manager at Bayside USA. “Saturday we get a call from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) saying ‘Hey we heard what you’re doing, can you make masks for FEMA?’ and that’s when we started making masks for the government,” Zulfiqar said.  

Due to a dire need for masks, hospitals and healthcare workers have been reaching out to designers to make reusable masks for them. Stephanie Stimmler, a sustainable fashion designer based in Palo Alto, is being contacted by hospitals to produce reusable masks and she used social media to find bigger suppliers that can help those hospitals. 

“Nadir from Bayside reached out to me because he saw my post … and said ‘I just got funded by the government to make a million masks and I will be donating all these to healthcare workers,” Stimmler said. 

Zulfiqar says that the three-layer cotton masks made by the company are not medical grade, but they are better than the single-layer masks and bandanas that a few people are wearing. 

The N95 respirators and surgical masks that are essential for healthcare and frontline workers to protect themselves from airborne particles are running out of stock. San Francisco based designer, Amy Kuschel, came up with a product that might help the N95 masks function longer. 

“We did a lot of research and found that it’s really important for people who are working really close to the disease to be wearing an N95, that’s the only mask they really want to wear,” Kuschel said. “But they’re so short of supply we felt that if we made a cover for it, they could extend the life of it.” 

Kuschel’s company donated over 2,800 of the 100% cotton two-layer mask that goes over an N95 mask and ties in the back of the head, to hospitals and they still continue to accept donation requests through their website. 

She also designed special masks for the general public that have an extra layer of protection. These masks have been available for purchase on their website soon after the CDC recommended face cloth coverings. 

“The mask we’re doing for the public is even a little bit, it’s better in that it has to work on its own with the nose wire and a triple layer fabric, and we made it a little easier to wear with an ear-loop and a tie,” Kuschel said. 

Stimmler is making about 25 masks each day for the last couple of weeks by using her own materials. Upon needing

Stephanie Stimmler, Bay Area-based fashion designer, makes sustainable cotton masks for healthcare and frontline workers. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stimmler)

more material, Discount Fabrics, a fabric store in San Francisco, approved Stimmler’s request of opening the store during shelter-in-place. Stimmler said they practiced absolute social-distancing while purchasing material at Discount Fabrics. 

“I’m just sewing at home and doing the best I can, but here’s a guy that is mass-producing garments on the day-to-day, and stopped his line of production obviously because of COVID and started making masks,” said Stimmler about Bayside USA. 

Local clothing stores and designers’ businesses are negatively affected by the novel coronavirus, but that is not stopping them from sewing to help the community. During this time when all types of communication are online, social media has played a key role in spreading the word of those in need. 

Clementina Martinez-Masarweh, owner and creative director of DNA Sustainable Threds, is also boosting Bayside USA’s philanthropy work by directing hospitals in need of masks to Zulfiqar directly. 

Despite stores being closed, local designers continue to persevere by working together as a community. Kuschel and Stimmler helped each other by brainstorming the design of their own masks and even helped with resources and materials when needed. 

“We’ve all just been doing whatever we can to help each other, you know? ‘Oh, where are you finding fabric?’ ‘OK, how are you getting this done? Or that done?’ And just sharing our resources that way has been really really heartwarming,” Kuschel said. 

Owner of DNA Sustainable Threds, Clementina Martinez-Masarweh, makes cotton masks. (Photo Courtesy of Clementina Martinez-Masarweh)
Owner of DNA Sustainable Threds, Clementina Martinez-Masarweh, makes cotton masks for the community. (Photo Courtesy of Clementina Martinez-Masarweh)